Integrated Wildfire Management Training bolsters Trinidad and Tobago's resilience

Photo: Participants at Integrated Wildfire Management Training in January 2024.

Integrated Wildfire Management Training bolsters Trinidad and Tobago's resilience

The Environmental Management Authority (EMA), through the BIOREACH Project, successfully hosted an Integrated Wildfire Management Training programme from January 8th to 16th, 2024, in both Trinidad and Tobago. This intensive training targeted professional Officers and Community-Based Organisations with experience in wildfire response.

Over 60 participants, including personnel from the Forestry Division on both islands, the National and Tobago Reforestation and Watershed Rehabilitation Programmes, the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project, Protectors of the Environment, Fire Services and Disaster Management Agencies, benefited from the training. The programme was led by Mr. Thomas Anderson, a seasoned Fire Management Specialist with over 20 years of experience with the US National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, and extensive regional expertise in bridging the gap between emerging wildland fire science, community preparedness, and ecosystem resilience. Mr. Anderson was supported by Mr. Blane Heumann who brought to the team extensive experience in fire safety and the Incident Command System.

The training encompassed the full spectrum of wildfire management strategies, moving beyond traditional prevention and control methods. Recognizing the limitations of existing approaches in addressing recurring "bush," forest, and wildfires, the programme emphasized the need for an integrated approach that incorporates socio-cultural realities, a deeper understanding of ecological fire responses, and utilises data and technology.

Planning and Development Minister Pennelope Beckles, with responsibility for the environment states that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago supports this exercise, especially since we are entering the dry season for 2024 from January and wildfires pose a threat to biodiversity, human health and property.

Building a Framework for Integrated Wildfire Management

The core objective of the training was to develop the capacity of stakeholders through the creation a framework that aims to address the root causes of fires and mitigate their threats to our precious biodiversity.

The curriculum commenced by exploring the benefits, goals, and components of an integrated approach. Participants actively shared their valuable wildfire fighting experiences and lessons learned. Subsequent days transitioned to field-based sessions, where safety considerations were paramount. The trainer introduced the Incident Command System (ICS) – a standardized approach for managing wildfire incidents of any size, ensuring collaborative and efficient response among diverse stakeholders.

The highlight of the programme was the carefully planned and executed controlled burn at the St. Michael's Agroforestry Station in Tacarigua. Controlled burns, when implemented by trained professionals, offer numerous benefits for both environmental and human communities. Notably, they reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires by clearing undergrowth and debris that fuel uncontrolled blazes. This technique creates natural firebreaks, making fire control more manageable, especially during dry periods and other extreme weather events.

Enhancing Capacity and Collaboration

The BIOREACH Project which seeks to restore degraded forests and establish an integrated wildfire management system for Trinidad and Tobago, actively builds the capacity of key stakeholders including the Forestry Division through initiatives such as this training programme. Additionally, the Project is developing a Community Forestry and Forest Fire Training Programme, as a specific module dedicated to tackling agricultural fires. Further to this, the Project has equipped the Forestry Division with approximately $250,000 worth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), firefighting tools, and communication equipment.

The next phase of the BIOREACH Project focuses on forest restoration. In collaboration with the Forestry Division, the Project plans to rehabilitate frequently burned slopes utilizing the integrated approach and reintroducing native species to promote ecological recovery and break the cycle of these destructive fires.

About the BIOREACH Project

The BIOREACH Project is an initiative of the Ministry of Planning and Development funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN). The EMA and National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (NAMDEVCO) serve as the Executing Agencies. This four-year project aims to conserve biodiversity, restore degraded landscapes, and improve the livelihoods of rural communities in Trinidad and Tobago.